BLUEFIELD — Cody Fuller is currently studying medicine, but a chance encounter at Marshall University let him play an important role in helping a little girl facing a life-threatening ailment called leukemia.
In 2019, Cody Fuller of Bluefield registered as a potential blood stem cell donor with DKMS, the world’s largest stem cell donor center, during a registration drive being held at Marshall University. His decision later became wonderful news for one family with a sick child.
“I had some friends at the nursing school at Marshall that were hosting the drive to sign up more people on the registry,” Fuller said, recalling how he encountered one of them. “He stopped me and hollered at me and asked if I wanted to sign up then. He was one of my good buddies, so I just signed up to help a friend out and help the nursing school out.”
A year later while sitting in class, Fuller received an important text message from DKMS.
“I was actually in my English class and my phone buzzed in my pocket,” he said. “It was a text informing me that I was a match. You know, I knew it was a one in a million chance. Initially, I couldn’t believe it. I was so excited that I had the opportunity to help somebody.”
Being able to make such a donation became even more meaningful to Fuller when he learned that he was helping a child named Ella Siders.
“I have two younger brothers, and in my family I am the oldest of the cousins and siblings and what not, and all my life I’ve been the oldest one,” he said. “I know the extremes I would go to to help one of my own, my own kin. I imagined what I would feel like to put myself in the Siders’ shoes. When you have a sick child like Ella, basically her fate lies in the hands of some stranger, and I just wanted to support them in one of the darkest times in their lives.”
Joe Siders, Ella’s father, said they learned about her condition when her pediatrician saw her for some blood work.
“We had just celebrated Ella’s first birthday,” he recalled later in an interview for the DKMS. “We took her in for a complete blood work. That’s when we got the news.”
The next morning, the family woke up to four missed telephone calls and texts from Ella’s pediatrician, Christina, he mother, added.
“And then from there, she was diagnosed with leukemia of some form,” she said. “There was shock for a while. About 12 to 24 hours later was when she got her actual diagnosis and they told us it wasn’t just leukemia, that it was acute myeloid leukemia, and a very rare and aggressive form; so because of her diagnosis, we knew right away that the only path toward something resembling a cure would be a transplant.”
Ella’s siblings were tested. She has a brother and a sister, and neither of them were matches. Her family was devastated by this news, but then the transplant coordinator told them that several good matches had been found in a database. The next step was to find the best one.
Fuller traveled to the Jewish Hospital–Mercer Health in Cincinnati, Ohio for the donation. When anyone hears the term “bone marrow transplant,” they think of painful medical procedures, but technology has advanced, he said. A new technology called aphersis, which resembles a dialysis machine, extracts the necessary stem cells.
Intravenous tubes are inserted into both the donor’s arms, and the stem cells are collected by the machine, Fuller said. The procedure was not painful. He went on to call donating stem cells was “a super-easy process.”
“It was just somewhat long,” he said. “It took just shy of eight hours.”
In May 2021, Cody and his family had the opportunity to virtually meet Ella and her parents during an emotional Zoom call arranged by DKMS. The Siders family had the chance to thank Cody for his selfless action and for giving them more time together as a family.
“It was a moment I had looked forward to since the day I found that I was a match,” Fuller said. “To see her doing well and smiling and running around on the screen, that was proof to me that all that had taken place was worth it.”
On Tuesday, Fuller started his second day of orientation at the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine in Lewisburg. Fuller said that he plans to become a practicing physician.
Fuller played football, basketball and baseball when he attended Bluefield High School. He said most of his family lives around the Richlands, Va. area.
People who want to see if they can become a donor can contact DKMS at dkms.org, he said. Potential donors receive a kit that comes with a swab they can use to mail in a DNA sample.
DKMS, which is an nonprofit organization, stands for ‘Deutsche Knochen-markspenderdatei’, or German Bone Marrow Donor Center. As the organization has grown internationally and extended its mission to include the United States, Poland, the United Kingdom, Chile, India, and South Africa, it has moved to use the same name everywhere – DKMS – to become identifiable as a single organization that operates under a one name.
Seventy percent of people suffering from leukemia, lymphoma and other blood cancers must rely on donors outside their family. An American is diagnosed with a blood cancer about every three minutes, and one is lost to blood cancer about every nine minutes, DKMS officials said. The uniqueness of an individual’s DNA means finding a matching donor is extremely rare, so getting as many donors as possible is critical.
— Contact Greg Jordan at [email protected]
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